Is it Effective?



The top A and A* criteria require students to evaluate poetry and talk about whether they find the techniques employed by a writer effective. This is one of the hardest things to do in essay writing and many students never really manage it well. Here are some ideas that can help you write about whether or not something is effective.


What does it mean to be effective?

What you will be able to say about whether a technique is effective will vary depending on the technique you are talking about but essentially it boils down to the working out whether the technique / literary feature in question actually did what the writer wanted it to. Did it have the desired effect? Did it affect me in the right way? Here are some questions you can ask to help work that out


Here is an example:


Owen’s powerful description of the soldier ‘shivering in his ghastly suit of grey’ in the opening stanza forces the reader to visualise the young man’s pathetic condition. His ‘shivering’ suggests how feeble and weak he is and it also implies how emotionally cold and empty his life is now that he is viewed as little more than ‘some queer disease’ by the girls who used to find him so attractive. His ‘grey’ suit contrasts pitifully with the colourful images of the ‘glow lamps’ and ‘light-blue trees’ in the subsequent stanza which are evocative of the life that he now lacks. Most effective, however, is Owen’s use of the word ‘ghastly’, the shocking and repulsive connotations of which combined with the harsh consonants in the word and its similarity to the word ‘ghostly’ leave us with no choice but to imagine how this young man is little more than a shadow of his former self. Like that of a ghost, his is a pathetic half life as he is forced to dwell on the edges of existence excluded from the pleasures and interactions which others enjoy.



The worlds in bold italics are the ones which show that the candidate is really evaluating how successful Owen has been at summoning up an image of the empty life of the wounded soldier. The idea that we are forced and are left with no choice but to imagine this life clearly indicates that the poet has made us confront these awful images head on. Equally if something is effective or powerful this implies that it does its job well and finally painfully suggests that the candidate has actually felt this emotion and suffered with the soldier, again insinuating the success of the poem.